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Album of the Week
Norman Lebrecht



It’s not often that I crack open a disc by a famous composer and find – to my delight – not a single work that I have heard before. Lutosławski (1913-94) lived all his life in Poland, surviving two forms of authoritarianism by developing a personal language that could not be categorised or castigated in political terms. Most of Lutosławski’s work is orchestral; the piano music is considered peripheral and scarcely performed.

A piano sonata he wrote as a student at the Warsaw Conservatoire has a cloudy, Debussy-like atmosphere for the first movement and a Satie-like minimalism for the second without ever sounding either French or derivative. At 20, Lutosławski is unmistakably himself. Two tiny études for piano solo, written under Nazi occupation in 1941, ripple inoffensively with barely controlled rage.

In 1945, when artists and intellectuals were being sent by the Communists to the salt mines, Lutosławski applied himself to writing a children’s suite based on nursery tunes. It sounds like nothing of the sort. What you hear is an ingenious adult trying to make sense of a world gone horribly wrong once more, refusing to bend his integrity to the demands of new rulers. The last two suites, written in 1952 and 1953 in the thick of Stalin’s oppression of the arts, were intended for teaching purposes. Ewa Kupiec, a professor in Hanover, still uses them with her students. The music she plays here is captivating, the performance intuitive.



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